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Ahmaud Arbery death trial | What is the difference between malice murder and felony murder in Georgia?

The defendants in the case each face one malice murder charge and four counts of felony murder.

GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. — UPDATE: See the bottom of this story for the verdicts in the case.

Original story below

In deciding whether the Feb. 23, 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery amounts to murder, the jury in Glynn County this week is actually weighing two different kinds of murder charge.

One of those is malice murder, the most serious murder charge in Georgia, and the other is felony murder.

The defendants - father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan - each face the same nine charges: One count of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, a count of false imprisonment and a count of criminal attempt to commit a felony.

RELATED: What are the three defendants in the trial of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery charged with?

Perhaps the best place to start in considering the difference between malice murder and felony murder is to break those nine charges up into two groups: malice murder, and everything else.

Malice murder

Malice murder is comparatively straightforward.

The law in Georgia defines it as the "deliberate intention unlawfully to take the life of another human being" where "no considerable provocation appears" and in which the killer shows "an abandoned and malignant heart."

This is sort of what you might consider a "classic" murder charge, or the the rough equivalent of "first degree" murder in other states.

Basically, someone intentionally kills another person out of some sense of ill will.

Felony murder

Felony murder works a little differently. 

A person can be charged and convicted of felony murder without actually killing someone.

Take, for instance, Greg McMichael and Roddie Bryan in the Arbery case.

Neither of them pulled the trigger - the video of the killing shows it was Travis McMichael - but the way felony murder works, if the jury finds they committed felonies that resulted in Arbery's death, that results in felony murder.

That's why there's four felony murder charges against each defendant - because they are each charged with four felonies (two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony) that allegedly resulted in murder.

A jury does not have to convict on felony murder if they convict on the felony, such as aggravated assault, itself. But, generally speaking, the charges are closely tied together.

RELATED: List | Charges and verdict for defendants in death of Ahmaud Arbery trial

Travis McMichael

  • Malice murder - Guilty
  • Felony murder
    • Count 1 - Guilty
    • Count 2 - Guilty
    • Count 3 - Guilty
    • Count 4 - Guilty
  • Aggravated assault 
    • Count 1 - Guilty
    • Count 2 - Guilty
  • False imprisonment to commit false imprisonment - Guilty
  • Criminal attempt to commit a felony - Guilty 

Greg McMichael

  • Malice murder - Not Guilty
  • Felony murder
    • Count 1 - Guilty
    • Count 2 - Guilty
    • Count 3 - Guilty
    • Count 4 - Guilty 
  • Aggravated assault 
    • Count 1 - Guilty 
    • Count 2 - Guilty 
  • False imprisonment to commit false imprisonment - Guilty 
  • Criminal attempt to commit a felony - Guilty 

William Bryan

  • Malice murder - Not Guilty
  • Felony murder
    • Count 1 - Not Guilty
    • Count 2 - Guilty
    • Count 3 - Guilty
    • Count 4 - Guilty 
  • Aggravated assault 
    • Count 1 - Not Guilty
    • Count 2 - Guilty 
  • False imprisonment to commit false imprisonment - Guilty 
  • Criminal attempt to commit a felony - Guilty

RELATED: When is sentencing for the men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery?